Melenchon, Fillon Tap Momentum in Quest of French Election Upset

  • Republican and Communist-backed candidate hold Sunday rallies
  • Both seeking to push out of third place ahead of April 23 vote

French Election Evolves Into Four-Way Race

French presidential candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Francois Fillon are rallying supporters on Sunday as polls suggest they’re almost tied for third place with two weeks of campaigning left.

Melenchon, backed by France’s Communist Party, has powered ahead, reaching 18 percent support in the Bloomberg composite of voting intention polls, compared with less than 12 percent after the first televised debate on March 20. Emmanuel Macron, the independent who’s the nominal front-runner, turned his sights on Melenchon in the latest campaign sparring.

Jean-Luc Melenchon arrives at the Old Port of Marseille on April 9.

Photographer: Boris Horvat/AFP via Getty Images

Francois Fillon, the Republican who has said he admires Margaret Thatcher, is polling 18.8 percent, up from 17.5 percent at the beginning of April. With National Front head Marine Le Pen and Macron leading the field, the race remains fluid and material swings in support remains possible in the final days.

“There have always been late deciders, but what’s happening is that now the late vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the breakdown of the polling that preceded it,” said Edouard Lecerf, director of polling at Kantar Public in Paris. “The late vote these days is providing a twist on the state of things in previous weeks.”

Fillon is holding a rally in Paris where he has asked all 577 candidates for the legislative elections to join him -- a dig at Macron, who has started a party and doesn’t have all his candidates in place. Pollsters including Lecerf say Fillon may benefit on Election Day from a reserve of supporters who return to their traditional partisan loyalties at the last minute.

Even so, the former front-runner has significant ground to make up and only a hint of momentum. The Journal du Dimanche titled its article on his rally “Fillon believes in a miracle.”

French Economy

Melenchon, who’s holding an open-air rally in Marseille on Sunday, is in a different situation. The former Socialist minister has surged in the polls and a BVA survey published on Friday had him tied with Fillon at 19 percent.

While Macron trails Le Pen in the composite polling by 23.3 percent to 23.8 percent for the first round, he’s considered the front-runner because surveys suggest he’d win a runoff against the National Front leader. The second-round vote is on May 7.

One sign of Melenchon’s momentum is that Macron has begun attacking him. The Macron campaign’s Twitter feed released a clip Sunday that suggests Melenchon can’t keep his campaign pledges, an argument echoed in a France 3 television interview Sunday.

“Jean-Luc Melenchon -- he’s a very nice guy but his promises are impossible to deliver and his program would be a disaster for France,” Macron said. “He’s for the destruction of the European Union, the Europe that protects us. He is for massive taxation. Personally, I don’t know how you create jobs without companies.”

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